Iyvonne Byers, Olivia Beaton, Sarah Hoit, Jean Makesh, and Jodie Audia.

The Importance of Engagement: Programming with a Purpose

At HEALTHTAC East, “the fun group” as they called themselves, joined forces to discuss all things programming and engagement, and what that has looked like within their communities over the last year and a half. This panel was comprised of, Jodie Audia, VP of Life Enrichment and Cognitive Programming at American House Senior Living, Iyvonne Byers, Chief Financial Officer at Priority Life Care, Sarah Hoit, CEO and Co-founder of Connected Living, and Jean Makesh, Chief Executive Officer at the Lantern Group.

As everyone in senior living witnessed, the isolation that came along with the pandemic was just as detrimental to seniors as the pandemic itself. Audia says, “the most important thing is to recognize the resilience of this generation. They took it like troopers.” The panelists all agree that both staff and residents were quick to adapt and leap over the learning hurdles that came with adjusting to technologies. Hoit and her team at Connected Living have been waiting for senior living to adapt to technology in this way for over a decade now and says “all of the things people weren’t ready for, or stuff that wasn’t being done, suddenly there was a critical need and demand for it.” She believes that if there is a silver lining, it is surely the innovation that washed over the industry and allowed people to become more connected.

At Priority Life Care, Byers was blown away by their communities, “people got so creative even in a time of tragedy.” At their communities they held parades, window visits, and birthday celebrations, amongst other little things to make the residents feel special, engaged. And cared about. Byers goes on to say, “We all now have such an appreciation for that time together that might have been taken advantage of before.” For Makesh, the question was “how I can continue to enable, inspire, and motivate my staff, to breathe life not only into each other, but to the residents as well.” That very question was at the foundation of the Lantern Group’s approach to engagement and programming throughout the pandemic. His team created a hug booth so residents and their families could once again feel physically connected to each other, and touch is directly connected to mental health. The group agreed that essentially, it all boils down to purpose, and creating programming that allows residents to feel that sense of purpose that is easy to lose as we age. Simply put, Audia says, “we tried to make happy happen every day.”

While communities across the country are resuming programming as normal, technology is certainly here to stay in senior living. As Audia noted, “technology was the lifeline that kept everyone together.” Both Byers and Hoit noted that some residents preferred virtual programming, and residents who previously may have skipped out on a group gathering were enthusiastic to join a virtual yoga class. Hoit says “there is an incredible opportunity to continue to engage with technology, every resident is different and has different needs.” Which goes back to the heart of engagement, whether in person or virtual, comes from that place of purpose. Byers encourages staff to “focus on the individual and who they are. We are creating a new business as usual, not the old business as usual.” Her fellow panelists shared this sentiment, discussing how much they have learned and how it has positioned them to create the best and most purposeful lives for their residents.

“A connected life is a happy life,” Hoit says, which couldn’t be truer. Each of these leaders stressed how important it is to connect and engage with residents in a way that is meaningful to them. The more teams can learn about the residents within their communities, the better they are able to serve them and create programs and events that cater to their individual needs and interests. Audia explains, “we have tried to standardize, and it just doesn’t work. It’s about creating lives with purpose; it’s called senior living and we want them to live.”

As we move forward, “the fun group” wants to focus on just that, fun within senior living. As resilient as these seniors have been, everyone is looking forward to being able to connect again in ways they weren’t able to for so long. There have been many lessons learned, and many necessary adaptations that have been made. Byers says it is extremely important to “rebuild that trust” with residents and families, assuring them their loved ones are being cared for and that there is always a window into their life inside their respective communities. Makesh believes the most important thing to encourage moving forward, is each resident’s freedom to thought, and expressing those thoughts, which will surely lead to purposeful programming and deep connections.

Editor Olivia Beaton moderating "Selling Senior Living" at HEALTHTAC East.

Selling Senior Living: Recovering Occupancy Post COVID-19

At HEALTHTAC East 2021, industry leaders were once again able to come together and exchange insights and ideas. During the panel discussion “Selling Senior Living: Recovering Occupancy Post COVID-19” Steven Flynt, COO at Solstice Senior Living, Alex Markowits Founder / President at Spring Hills Communities, Frankie Pane, President & COO at Essex Communities, and Jayne Sallerson, COO at Charter Senior Living, discussed their strategies for making a comeback post COVID.

At Solstice, Flynt says in 2020 they lost about 5% occupancy, and he never thought he would say that enthusiastically, but after the last year, they consider this to be a win. “I am so proud of our teams, every day we were growing and learning, every day we were adapting. I’ve been in the business a really long time and thought I knew something, but the pandemic made it clear I really didn’t know anything.” Flynt was not alone in his thoughts, as his other panelists, and audience members agreed that the pandemic shook the foundations of senior living and forced us to adapt and start from scratch.

Sallerson echoed the sentiment that this year was most definitely the hardest year of her career in senior housing thus-far. Early on, she says, she made the decision to mask up, get on planes, and start visiting her communities following all proper protocols so her associates could see her and her team members rolling up their sleeves and trying to identify how they could get better as a whole. Though the struggle senior living endured was apparent, all of the panelists agree that there is a large demand now, and they are positioning themselves and their companies to be able to meet it.

As far as recovery goes, Sallerson says it best, “it’s about getting back in front of people.” So much of what is behind senior housing cannot be portrayed virtually, we are selling care, and homes, and bringing people back into the communities is a huge step in regaining momentum. Frankie Pane believes to move forward it is important to treat COVID-19 as a thing of the past, and within their communities they have been fortunate enough to resume to a full sense of normalcy. For him at Essex, “it’s about selling the fact that the vibrancy and fun is back in our communities.” Creativity was apparent over the last year and a half and the panelists discussed how important highlighting the happenings within their communities is to bringing new residents in the door, and bringing life back to current residents.

Markowits believes that transparency is key, in fact he says to over-communicate. Something he says will stick around in their post pandemic world will be the degree of communication he had with families, keeping them in the loop of what was happening within their communities and with their loved ones. He adds that “supporting my associates is paramount, making sure they have the resources they need to do their jobs.” Spring Hills has brought in counselors and is looking into opportunities to continue to show their team members how valuable they are. After having 8 admissions in one month in a community in Ohio, Markowits finally feels like “a sunrise is coming.”

It does indeed finally feel as though the sun is rising and the smoke is clearing, and Flynt and his team have brought on additional salespeople to prepare to meet the upcoming industry demand, and he is already seeing it within their communities. Sallerson raises a fantastic point, and notes that “It’s very important for our salespeople to be educated and up to date on our safety protocols so they can address it if it comes up.”

So how do we regain occupancy? To Pane, it’s simple, “if you focus on fun, the people will come.” People want assurance that their seniors are not only safe but thriving and enjoying life in their homes. From a marketing standpoint, the panelists agree that promoting the activities and quality of life within their respective communities is key to driving those occupancy rates up.

Sallerson and Flynt stressed the importance of taking down the stop signs, caution tape, and other signage that could be alarming to newcomers. Presenting the message that we are open and safe is crucial, but people want to see a sense of normalcy has returned. The psychological barrier is important to bring down, Sallerson notes these implementing these changes have allowed them to get ahead of occupancy and look forward to a brighter future.

Though the last year and a half has been challenging and uncertain, all of these panelists can say with certainty that the demand is here, and that the industry is coming back better than ever.

Murano is Bringing Elevated Dining to the Senior Living Experience

With fine dining flare from a skilled executive chef and a creative food and beverage director, Murano Senior Living’s dining has ascended to the next level. Chef Alvin Tsao and Sean Klos take pride in providing a quality dining experience and carefully crafted meals to their residents 365 days a year.

Chef Tsao, former sous Chef with Seattle’s Manolin, made his transition into senior living because he was blown away by the opportunity to create a restaurant style dining experience for Murano’s residents. Klos had a long history on F&B and found his way into senior living through some of his mentors, wanting to “change the everyday norm of the typical senior living food and dining experience.”

Chef Tsao takes residents on a culinary journey every night, serving up dishes like Brazilian feijoada stew, pork tenderloin with apple fig mole, and mezze plates with Lebanese flat bread. Chef Tsao’s beautifully composed plates remind residents that they are in a fine dining restaurant. “We try to learn as much as we can about the residents to personalize their dining experience.” says Chef Tsao. Murano prides itself in having a passion for true ingredients, leaving out sugars and sodium right off the bat. They also use herbs from their gardening club to add a homegrown personal touch to every meal.

These dining focused events occur every week on a regular schedule as a way to engage with and listen to the residents wants and needs.

Mondays, Breaking Ice with Steve: Bartender Steve highlights a spirit each week by featuring it in a cocktail (alcoholic and non) and sharing its history 
Wednesdays, cooking and cocktail demos:Chef Tsao or Sean Klos showcase dishes and techniques from around the world. 
Fridays, Happy Hour:social time in the bar area to engage with residents and staff 

“Our residents have had many life experiences and often traveled the world, and so we create excitement by showing they can experience new flavors and keep learning with unique and engaging events,” says Klos. They offer a different special on the menu every day of the year to keep things exciting and are committed to a fun and educational dining experience. Tsao and Klos pride themselves in the fact they haven’t repeated a single recipe in over a year and a half, assuring that residents are constantly experiencing new flavors and are never bored.

HEALTHTAC Partners with Pandemic Solutions.net to Provide a Safe Environment for Live Events

HEALTHTAC will be returning to live events on June 27th at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne, Miami. The senior living industry is eager to connect and collaborate once again, which is why HEALTHTAC has partnered with Pandemic Solutions.net to provide the highest level of health and safety in the convention space.

Pandemic Solutions.net CEO and Founder Peter Cantone, and Executive Vice President Dennis Berberich, have collaborated with HEALTHTAC President and CEO, Rich Viola, to assure the event will have protocols in place to create a safe environment for attendees. HEALTHTAC East will take place from June 27th-June 29th and the following protocols will be in place:

1. Attendee Screening: All attendees will be screened each day at the Pandemic Solutions kiosk which tests temperature, pulse, and blood oxygen levels to determine with 99.84% effectiveness if a person is ill.

2. Air Purifying: The air in the HEALTHTAC conference rooms will be purified by Bi Polar Ionization (BPI). The patented Dielectric Barrier Discharge Bi-polarization technology is proven to reduce the coronavirus by 99.92% within 30 minutes in a room.

3. Surface Disinfection: All HEALTHTAC conference rooms will be sprayed daily with CleanSmart, the safest existing disinfectant, which is an EPA List N HOC, to kill 99.99% of the COVID-19 and other dangerous viruses.

Pandemic Solutions Safety Triad system ensures a clean and healthy work environment. Assuring the safety of HEALTHTAC attendees not only requires a thorough understanding of cleaning protocols to sanitize, disinfect and help prevent the spread of viruses, but also relies upon the use of proven equipment, the proper training of personnel, and clear communication.

HEALTHTAC is thrilled to have such a dedicated problem-solving partnership to assist in welcoming the senior living industry back to in person events. Produced by Senior Living News, HEALTHTAC® has rapidly gained a reputation as the industry’s most talked-about, productive, business-building event among senior executives representing CCRCs, independent and assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing/rehabilitation across the U.S. and Canada.

Mizuki Sato Berkeland

The Intersection of Senior Living and Environmental Health

After the various challenges and lessons learned over the last year, Kisco Senior Living has created a new position completely dedicated to environmental health and safety. Mizuki Sato-Berkeland, Director of Environmental Health and Safety at Kisco Senior Living, is dedicated to making sure residents and staff are safe. Environmental health has become increasingly more important in the wake of COVID-19, and Sato-Berkeland’s mission is to protect residents’ immune systems while also providing the highest quality of life.

Kisco Clean was an initiative that started during COVID to assure the utmost safety, cleaning, and hygiene protocols were put in place to keep residents happy and healthy. Part of the new role is also looking for areas of opportunities and doing research behind the scenes on the latest protocols, technology, and emergency preparedness. “I am lucky to be a part of a forward-thinking organization that has great protocols in place already. One of my goals is to make safety easier to digest on a personal level by creating engaging ways to dive into environmental health,” says Sato-Berkeland.

Communication is key when it comes to educating and informing people about the importance of environmental health in senior living. “We take pride in being transparent, communicating with residents, staff, and families what is happening, what we are doing, and what we may not yet know,” says Sato-Berkeland. Throughout the pandemic, they have been testing, surveying, and finding which methods, products, and processes are best of the overall well-being of the residents within their communities.

Kisco Senior Living is actively advocating for the COVID-19 vaccine and are taking a safe and conservative approach to reopening, while maintaining the Kisco Clean level of sanitation their residents deserve. As Director of Environmental Health and Safety, Sato-Berkeland hopes to continue to support communities on the ground, form policies, and improve efficiency. Part of her job is being aware of the rapidly changing guidelines and assuring Kisco is able to implement them and adapt accordingly. Looking to the future, she believes that COVID-19 provided lessons that will allow them to better prepare and act moving forward. Now more than ever, the importance of health and safety in senior living is at the forefront of peoples’ minds, and Sato-Berkeland and her team are extremely dedicated to providing the highest quality of care.

PK Silver Program

Goodwin House Alexandria offers “Parkour” to Encourage Fall Prevention

Leslie LaPlace, fitness manager at the Goodwin House Alexandria, introduced a program called PK Silver to the older adults they serve, the goal being to provide the seniors will skills and drills that keep them active and ultimately decrease the likelihood of severe falls and injuries.

PK Silver is an eight-week program that takes place once a week, each session has a focus that builds on the skills the residents developed the previous sessions. LaPlace explains that the program starts slow and with the basics, such as squatting, which is crucial to help the students create a foundation of balance and stability. “The goal of the program,” she says, “is to get the residents more comfortable moving through their environment and every-day lives.” The “Parkour” style movements incorporate cardio, strength, and endurance, movements that aim to prevent falls in the future.

Carson Fralin, Recreational Director, says the key component is teaching the residents how to discover and maintain their center of gravity, the program provides the seniors with coordination skills that they will be able to put into practice should they ever need to. They teach residents how to brace themselves and how to grab onto rails, walls, etc., so should a moment of panic arise, they already have the skills to respond. “We are creating a condition response so their natural reaction in situations is to find their center of gravity,” says Fralin. He also notes that it isn’t just a physical challenge, but a mental one as well. Many older adults fear falling, and the PK Silver program puts residents in common fall scenarios and teaches them how to regain confidence in vulnerable shapes.

LaPlace and Fralin have seen residents build confidence through this program which has been extremely rewarding. They are currently in the middle of an eight-week session that is targeting residents with lower mobility, especially welcoming those with assistive walking devices to come learn and incorporate those into the training as well. PK Silver is more than just a work- out, it also adds a social component to the residents lives that is essential to their overall wellbeing. This isn’t your typical older adult fitness program, it’s fun, challenging, practical, and gives seniors the confidence they need to thrive while aging.

Koelsch Deer Park Car Drop

Koelsch Communities Signature Car Drop

In 1981, Emmet Koelsch began the car drop tradition at Koelsch Communities, being a vintage car buff himself, he knew firsthand what an impact a piece of the past could have on memory care residents. Since then, each Koelsch community that opens, there is a car drop ceremony where a vintage car is lowered by crane into the courtyard of the new community. Olivia Koelsch, Director of Community Relations, and granddaughter to Emmet, is now responsible for the celebration aspect of carrying on her grandfather’s legacy.

Koelsch suspends a car in the air and safely puts it in the courtyard at each of its communities. At Deer Ridge, their most recent opening, it was a 1952 Chevrolet 3100 pickup truck. It’s a form of reminiscent therapy that encourages memory through nostalgia. Koelsch says the car selections are very intentional, mostly from the 50s era, and they are selected to engage the senses, which is crucial in memory care. She stresses that the cars aren’t just for looks, but rather for residents to really engage with, touch, sit in, it brings them back to a time they can remember, or ignites their senses.

The beloved Car Drop is not just for Koelsch residents and staff, but for all members of the surrounding community as well. Part of Koelsch’s job is to really make this a celebratory, engaging, family affair event. For people outside of the community, Koelsch says, “it is a unique and nice way to introduce people to senior living and memory care, it’s more than just a car drop.” It is not every day people see a vintage car craned through the sky, and residents, staff, and family members alike, love coming together for this signature event.

Koelsch Communities will continue to carry on this tradition, and the cars will continue to adapt to meet the generation of residents they need to serve. What started as Emmet’s love for vintage cars, has developed into a memory care tool, and celebration for each and every Koelsch Community.

Alex Markowits

Alex Markowits, President & CEO at Spring Hills Senior Communities, Discusses Expansion Program.

Alex Markowits is no stranger to providing quality care, in fact he says it “was ingrained in his DNA.” He grew up surrounded by a family that was focused on helping others and giving to vulnerable populations. After college, he became a licensed nursing home administrator and he worked with turn-around specialists who would go in and improve nursing homes that weren’t being run properly. In 2000, Markowits and his family had a unique opportunity to raise money and save a community that was going to have to close, saving all of the employees jobs with it, and turn it into assisted living. Fast forward to now, and Markowits is continuing to aspire and create programs that contribute to the highest level of care with Spring Hills Population Health System.

Spring Hills Population Health includes the design, delivery, coordination, and payment for high-quality health care services using the best resources available, including accountable care organizations (ACOs), risk stratification methods, patient registries, and patient-centered medical home and other models of team-based care. Markowits says, “there is a big push to improve efficiency and outcomes while providing patient centered care. We believe that quality of life is just as important as quality of care.”

Though the last year has been challenging in senior living, Markowits believes it has allowed the industry to focus on critical changes that need to be made and allowed powerful ideas and initiatives to come to fruition. He says, “everything needs to align in order to provide and create transformational change.” Spring Hills intends to grow the program by engaging data consultants and partnering with health systems and payers, care specialists, and social service providers. Its team will leverage technologies that streamline communications and care provision to provide comprehensive population health services to patients enrolled in the program.

Aside from their population health plans, Spring Hills is eager to focus on building new communities and bringing existing communities into the future. At Spring Hills, “we believe the most precious thing that you can’t buy, is time, if we are able to give you the best quality of life and care, we are giving you time,” says Markowits. He and his team are leading by example, encouraging residents, staff, and the public to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations. Their pharmacy partnership has allowed easy access to vaccinations for all of their residents and Spring Hills has put focus on providing answers and assurance for people who may have questions or feel uncertain. One of Spring Hills main goals moving forward is to combat the isolation COVID-19 brought on by utilizing technology and cultivating meaningful engagement.

Markowits is enthusiastic about the future of Spring Hills and their Population Health Management Program and hopes that it helps to fix a healthcare system that is broken. While currently focused on building programs in New Jersey, Spring Hills intends to scale its population health management program to support the provision of health care across the organization’s care continuum. They are always continuing to look at evolving and groundbreaking opportunities to put into practice within their communities.


Appanage "The Grand" Bedroom

Introducing Appanage: A Modern, Wellness-Oriented Living Model Designed to Transform the Aging Experience for Baby Boomers

Appanage co-founders Eliot Listman and Daniel Stern have created a membership-based model that offers baby boomers access to private, intergenerational, turn-key living experiences. Listman and Stern aim to cater to the 10,000 people a day turning 65 in the US, and provide them with a wellness focused luxury lifestyle. Listman says, “our intergenerational living approach enables a sense of community and creates an organic sense of vibrancy within our residences.”

“Today’s senior living options do not address the personal wellness needs and preferences of the aging baby boomer population – whether they are 55 years old and downsizing or 85 and wanting to avoid institutional housing. I have personally seen family and friends struggle to find the right living solution to enjoy what ought to be their best years. This is what brought us to launch Appanage. Appanage is a modern and aspirational approach to aging well, living longer and better, and effectively transforming the living and lifestyle needs of baby boomers,” said Daniel Stern, co-founder of Appanage and senior housing industry expert.

A unique feature for baby-boomers who like to travel or be on the go, is that Appanage allows members to split their time between different residences. As they continue to create living spaces in New York, Los Angeles, Florida, Chicago, and Boston, members have the opportunity to travel between residences and personalize their aging experience. The first collection of residences are currently move in ready at The Grand at Sky View Park in Queens, NY, and at Popham Hall in Scarsdale, NY.

Residents can expect an engaging, wellness centered lifestyle within their Appanage community. They offer an activity schedule from 8am-8pm every day, where residents can choose to participate in programs that interest them. They have relationships with nearby restaurants to provide a different dining experience, or they encourage residents to dine together in their residences. Appanage communities are equipped with gym facilities, yoga studios, and other wellness opportunities.  Stern says, “as we continue negotiations in Manhattan, we aim to choose buildings based on design, ecosystem, and what amenities they have to offer.”

Appanage has their own team of wellness experts who are trained in their specific program, these experts are there to check in with the residents on a regular basis, and assure their holistic needs and care are being met. It is extremely important to Stern and Listman to make sure families and loved ones know that someone is caring for their resident and they have the support and services that they need. Listman says, “wellness is proactive, healthcare is reactive.” Which is why Appanage focuses on creating programing that stimulates physical, mental, and holistic wellness. They encourage their residents to create meaningful relationships with people who have similar passions or interests to them across multiple generations.

Listman and Stern hope that Appanage meets the baby boomer generation where they are when they are ready to make a change. Their unique approach to living and wellness aims to attract older adults who aren’t quite yet ready for a traditional senior living experience. Appanage is eager to grow and offer residents a personalized, holistic, and multigenerational lifestyle.

Senior Living Operators Begin to Make COVID-19 Vaccines Mandatory for Staff

As vaccination rates increase and senior living restriction begin to decrease, many operators across the country are coming out with mandates for their staff to be vaccinated. Civitas Senior Living, Juniper Communities, Atria Senior Living, Silverado Senior Living, and Sunrise Senior Living are amongst the first to declare mandatory vaccines for all staff members throughout all of their respective communities.

In a press release sent on March 18th, Civitas Senior Living Chief Operating Officer Misty Miller said making the vaccines mandatory was imperative to not only protect all Civitas residents and employees but also return the senior living industry to pre-COVID normalcy.

“Due to Civitas’ vaccination efforts at our communities, we have seen incredible results,” Miller said. “As of today, we do not currently have any residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 at our communities. We credit this to our vaccination program, effective protocol, and the passionate care of our staff members. However, we recognize that the COVID-19 virus still poses a threat. It is up to Civitas and all of us to stay vigilant. We know that the vaccines are the way to the future, a future that not only benefits our residents’ quality of life but also the senior living industry. That is why we are requiring all of our employees to take that next step and get vaccinated.”

The goal of requiring all staff members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine is to protect the most susceptible and vulnerable population that they care for and interact with every day. Individuals who work in senior living are rather used to putting residents first and view the vaccine as an opportunity to continue to provide the best level of care and assure resident safety. However, not everyone is onboard with the mandate, as exemplified by the approximate 30 individuals who self-terminated at Juniper Communities in response to their vaccination requirement.

Although COVID-19 cases in LTC appear to be dropping, staff and resident vaccination is crucial in order to welcome new residents, staff, and visitors without fear of exposure or infection. Atria Senior Living and Civitas Senior Living employees have until May 1st to be fully vaccinated, and this trend is expected to continue throughout the industry. Companies do have the right to mandate their staff to be vaccinated, however there are certain medical / religious exemptions that should be honored according to law.

Wayne Powell, Co-Founder at Civitas Senior Living says, “the vaccine is the best way forward.” Senior Living Communities across the country are eager to return to a sense of normalcy and for some mandating staff vaccinations are another step toward a safer future. As more communities join the roster of mandatory staff vaccinations and many have 100% resident vaccination rates, hope is on the horizon for an industry that has been on lockdown for over a year.